RMT votes for strikes across UK's rail network

RMT votes for strikes across UK’s rail network: Union threatens chaos in action over pay and conditions

  • Members of the RMT union at Network Rail and 15 train operators backed action
  • The union’s leaders will now decide when and where to call their strikes
  • Described as ‘biggest endorsement for industrial action since privatisation’  
  • A total of 89 per cent voted in favour of strike action, 11 per cent voted against
  • The union will now be demanding urgent talks with Network Rail and the 15 train operating companies 

Railway workers have voted overwhelmingly to strike in a bitter dispute over jobs, pay and conditions, threatening massive disruption to the network in the coming weeks.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail and 15 train operators backed launching a campaign of industrial action.

The union’s leaders will now decide when to call strikes, which will bring huge parts of the network to a standstill.

The union said it was the biggest endorsement for industrial action by railway workers since privatisation.

A total of 71 per cent of those balloted took part in the vote with 89 per cent voting in favour of strike action and 11 per cent voting against.

The union will now be demanding urgent talks with Network Rail and the 15 train operating companies.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘Today’s overwhelming endorsement by railway workers is a vindication of the union’s approach and sends a clear message that members want a decent pay rise, job security and no compulsory redundancies.

‘Our NEC will now meet to discuss a timetable for strike action from mid-June, but we sincerely hope ministers will encourage the employers to return to the negotiating table and hammer out a reasonable settlement with the RMT.’

A walkout by Network Rail signallers will have a significant impact on services.

It is possible that trains will only run for part of the day, such as from 7am to 7pm and only on main lines.

Services could be reduced to around a fifth of the normal weekday timetable.

A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesperson said: ‘Strikes should always be the last resort, not the first, so it is hugely disappointing and premature that the RMT is calling for industrial action before even entering discussions.

‘Taxpayers across the country contributed £16 billion to keep our railways running throughout the pandemic while ensuring not a single worker lost their job. The railway is still on life support, with passenger numbers 25 per cent down and anything that drives away even more of them risks killing services and jobs.

‘We urge the RMT to reconsider and accept the invitation of industry talks, so we can find a solution that delivers for workers, passengers and taxpayers alike.’

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail and 15 train operators backed launching a campaign of industrial action. The union’s leaders will now decide when to call strikes, which will bring huge parts of the network to a standstill

HARD-LINERS: RMT leader Mick Lynch addresses the crowd as Recently sacked P&O workers and their supporters march from the local RMT building to the harbour entrance this month

It comes after RMT on Sunday issued a stern warning that they will mount fierce resistance to any attempt by the government to reduce their right to strike on the railways. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said over the weekend that ministers are looking at drawing up laws which would make industrial action illegal unless a certain number of staff are working.  

RMT general secretary Lynch declared: ‘Any attempt by Grant Shapps to make effective strike action illegal on the railways will be met with the fiercest resistance from RMT and the wider trade union movement.

‘The government need to focus all their efforts on finding a just settlement to this rail dispute, not attack the democratic rights of working people.

‘Britain already has the worst trade union rights in Western Europe.

‘And we have not fought tooth and nail for railway workers since our forebears set up the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants in 1872, in order to meekly accept a future where our members are prevented from legally withdrawing their labour.’  

Mr Shapps told the Sunday Telegraph that the government hopes the unions ‘will wake up and smell the coffee’ and suggested that strikes could put more people off rail travel.

He also accused unions of going straight to industrial action rather than using it as a last resort, adding that railways were already on ‘financial life support’ because of the pandemic.

Referring to a pledge in the Conservative manifesto for minimum services during strikes, he said: ‘We had a pledge in there about minimum service levels.

‘If they really got to that point then minimum service levels would be a way to work towards protecting those freight routes and those sorts of things.’

More than 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail and train operators were involved in the vote over whether to launch a campaign of industrial action over jobs, pay and conditions. 

‘Any attempt by Grant Shapps (pictured) to make effective strike action illegal on the railways will be met with the fiercest resistance,’ Mr Lynch said 

Universities, airports and hospitals could be hit by walkouts so severe they threaten to grind the country to a halt (pictured) People wait inside Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, which is also threatening industrial action, said: ‘What we are seeing here is desperate nonsense from the Tories who have chosen to attack working people in our union who kept the railways running every single day of the pandemic.

‘What the Government should be doing is putting in place measures to deal with the Tory cost of living crisis, including ensuring that wages keep pace with inflation.

‘It’s laughable to see Grant Shapps scampering off to drip poison in the ears of journalists instead of backing polices to put our railways front and centre of our economic recovery from Covid. He should be ashamed.

‘Frankly, the Tories can pass whatever law they wish to deny our members their fundamental rights – our union will defy their unjust and undemocratic laws every step of the way.

‘The difference between a slave and a worker is the latter’s ability to withdraw their labour.’

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘Ministers have spectacularly failed to deal with the cost of living crisis. Now they are trying to distract from their failure by picking a fight with unions.

‘The right to strike is crucial in a free society.

‘Threatening the right to strike tilts the balance in the workplace too far towards the employers. And it means workers can’t stand up for decent services and safety at work – or defend their jobs or pay.

‘We will fight these unfair and unworkable proposals to undermine unions and undermine the right to strike, and we will win.’

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: ‘Unite will confront head-on, and by whatever means necessary, any further attacks on the right to strike.

‘In Britain we already operate under the most restrictive labour laws in western Europe. A workers’ right to withdraw their labour is inalienable in any democracy worth its name.

‘This is a cynical, authoritarian move designed to protect corporate profits and has been wheeled out to satisfy the needs of short-term factional politics.

‘While corporations make billions and ordinary working people suffer, this Government chooses to attack the rights of British workers.

‘When P&O, a billion-dollar company owned by a foreign dictatorship, brutally sacked 800 British workers, they broke the law. The Government’s response was a fine.

‘When British workers threaten to defend their living standards in the face of a cost-of-living crisis not of their making, this Government threatens to take away their democratic rights.

‘We are now forced to put the Government on notice. Unite will not sacrifice the protection of our members’ jobs, pay and conditions on the altar of ‘partygate’. If you force our legitimate activities outside of the law, then don’t expect us to play by the rules.’

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: ‘Unite will confront head-on, and by whatever means necessary, any further attacks on the right to strike (Unite union members pictured at the picket line on May 20)

Protesters, including trade unionists, striking cleaners and ex P&O workers, assemble in Clerkenwell in front of the Marx Memorial Library, to march to Trafalgar Square and celebrate International Workers Day on May 1st 2022 in London, United Kingdom 

The picket line at the Barking depot on May 20, 2022 in London, England.UNITE Union members employed by Alstom are taking strike action over a dispute in conditions and pay

It comes as ministers urged union bosses to ‘be reasonable’ and spare the nation from rail strike chaos.

They insisted that if the unions went ahead, the Government would bring in legislation to prevent any repeat of a national rail shutdown. 

That would mean outlawing any strikes that did not provide a guaranteed ‘minimum service’ to limit disruption to passengers. It could also make union leaders liable for damages if they failed to honour such a requirement.

Last night, a Government source admitted that a law could not be rushed through in time for any strikes this summer, but it would apply for any future industrial action. The source also pointed out that the Government had put £16 billion of taxpayers’ cash into the rail industry during the pandemic as passenger numbers plummeted.

The insider added: ‘We’d rather have sensible discussions, and we want the unions to be reasonable.

‘But unjustified, wide-scale rail strikes would make legislation inevitable to protect the public and supply chains.’

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